Demographic Changes in America (1607-1914)

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Demographic Changes in America (1607-1914)
Historical records of American demography start with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Puritans landed in Plymouth and made a home for themselves with the help of Native Americans. These first immigrants in the colonies (British, Dutch, and German), moved to America between the early 17th and late 18th centuries in what was known as Old Immigration. During the colonial period, the birth rate was high but the life expectancy was low. It was common for people to live up until their mid-thirties and families consisted of six to eight children, of which usually just three survived past childhood. The population of the colonies rose to over two million by 1765. The birth rate and life expectancy were the same through the Revolution, but internal migration which took place was the movement of over 60,000 Loyalists to Canada after the United States declared independence from Great Britain.

The early national era was a time of massive immigration and expansion for America. After the 1830’s, there was an onslaught of immigrants from all over the world. The Irish came to America because of the Great Potato Famine that was sweeping through Ireland. The California Gold Rush (1849) was another pull factor for immigrants; the search for gold attracted many Chinese immigrants. Nativist groups like the Know-Nothing Party opposed the influx of foreigners but their efforts did not slow immigration down. Within the United States, Manifest Destiny, was taking root and westward expansion became an option with the addition of many new territories. Going to the west was also necessary for some groups to live in their own societies. About 70,000 Mormons moved west to Utah to escape religious persecution. But for Native Americans, going to Oklahoma was not an option; it was mandatory. They were forced to march over 1,000 miles away to a new territory on the Trail of Tears because of the Indian Removal Act, which displaced over 100,000 Indians. About 25% of these Indians died on the journey over to their new reservations.

Throughout the Antebellum and Civil War eras, life expectancies continued to steadily increase and birth rates decreased drastically. The typical seven to eight children per woman became the modern-day family with only two or three kids. Marriage rates also lowered because there was massive war mobilization of marriage-age men and women were trying to join the workforce, but after the war there was still a rush for young men and women to get married before they got too old. The Reconstruction period following the Civil War was accompanied by a continuing decrease in birth rates and the number of infant mortalities, the babies that died at childbirth, decreased as well. The first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, and this opened up quicker travel from east to west. The construction of this railroad drew in more Chinese immigrants who wanted opportunities to work, so the population of Chinese-Americans increased.

The 1880’s were not a good time for American health. Infant mortality increased from 15% to 18% and the life expectancy actually decreased for the first time. These problems were mainly caused by unsanitary conditions in the inner cities. Disease ran rampant and the living conditions were horrible. Fortunately, by the 1890s, cities were taking action to improve sanitation, so life expectancy increased again, and infant mortality decreased to 10%. New Immigration began in 1880 and continued through the Progressive Era. Mostly poor Europeans came to America, and they did so by way of Ellis Island in New York. Asian immigrants became limited during this time with legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, and the ones who were already in America clustered together and lived in ethnic enclaves to stay away from nativist whites. African Americans moved in the Great Migration in 1910 in...
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